Exclusive Interview With
Mustapha Tettey Addy

Find Out What's On The Mind
Of An African Master Drummer!

In October 2009, I was chatting with Mustapha for 2 hours in his house in Ghana.

Mustapha Tettey Addy
Mustapha Tettey Addy

There's a ton of important information in his words.
To get the most out of it, read the whole text or use these links to skip down to a specific topic:

Mustapha, African Music has a lot of potential for the people here in Ghana. There's so much you can do with it.

Oh yes, there's a lot. Too much. You know, if you have little, it is not a problem. But when you have too much it is a problem! You don't see this? Go to the beach here. I see some people from Spain. They pick some small, small things from the beach and then make nice things out of it. Here, we have a lot of people running around the beach, they go fishing and come, but they don't see those things.

Yes, you have to see it and know what to do with it.

But they cannot see it. This is a problem in the whole of Africa. In a small country like Ghana, what we have here is too much. From here to the gulf, we have Gold underground.

Ghana should be rich.

Yes! We should be, but we don't see it. All these motherfuckers talking there (points at government officials debating on TV) they come and took the whole country. They take all the money into their pockets. And they don't care to develop the villages.

If you interview me, you have to know about this: I talk hard. Hard talk is not hard enough. You have to be hard. I can say: This guy here is a stupid guy and I can explain why: He has this, and this and this and he shits on it, he goes to toilet on these things (refers to the polluted beaches in Ghana). This is hard talk.

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You have to wake people up for them to see the potential. Because many Westerners are curious about African tradition. They would like to learn about it.

They do. It's good. But then it's up to us to wake up. We have to wake up to teach those people. Because I know a lot of boys running around here. When they see a white person they say: "Oh I'm a drummer, I want to teach you!" And the white persons who are stupid will pay a little money, go do "pata pata pata" and then they say "I went to Ghana to learn drumming." But it's not true.

I know some Ghanaians in Switzerland and Germany, they never drum in Ghana before, they are no drummers. They learned a bit from their friends and then they say they are Master Drummers. I know them. And this is wrong.

And some white people also are helping them. The woman here next door, an American. Instead of her to take professional drummers to play for her guests, that she invited from Europe or America to Ghana, she go and pay some stupid boys who never drum before, their parents don't know what drum is. And those guests will go and tell the outside world that this is Ghana drumming. But it's not. That's not Ghana drumming. I could hear them play in the night. They said they played kpanlogo, but it was not kpanlogo. I was annoyed. Because these people don't care about African drumming. They only care about making money. They portray to the outside world the wrong drumming from Ghana.

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How did you become a drummer? How can anybody become one in Africa?

You have to be born in a place where there's drummers. You don't just become a drummer. In the whole village Avenor, only our house the drummers are coming from.

So your family were drummers.

Yes. My father was one of the higher dancers. He teaches his children how to drum. With his mouth, he can teach you how to drum.

It's from him that you learned drumming?

Yes. And from some of my older brothers. A lot of them were drummers. So, the point is: You don't just become a drummer in Ghana. If somebody tells you, it's not true.

You Europeans think everybody in Africa can drum. It's not true. You think everybody in Africa can dance. It's not true. I was teaching at the college in Winneba here for one year. I had a difficult time with the Ghanaians, teaching them how to drum and dance. Some people, they are worse than European people. You teach them how to dance and they do like this (shows a dance move). What is this! You are like a stick! (laughs)

So, you have to tell the whole world. Tell them! That me, I know something that I don't tell. Because in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, a lot of people cheated me there. I work with them and they run away with the money. I don't do it again.

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Listen to what "Master Drummer" means. Do you know what "Master Drummer" means?

No. Tell me what "Master Drummer" means.

Master drummer means: "somebody who no tell lie". If you are a master drummer you don't lie. You say the truth. As a master drummer, you don't hate people. As a master drummer, you help people, anybody, whether a child or even somebody who doesn't like you. When they come to you, you help them.

That is a Master Drummer's responsibility?


And how do you become a Master Drummer?

You become a Master Drummer because you become a Master Drummer.

You are meant to become a Master Drummer?

Yes. I happen to be a Master Drummer. Not that I want to be a Master Drummer. I never wanted to be a Master Drummer, never. Even in our language, there is no name "Master Drummer". We don't have that name. We have: "God's Drummer". Like you would say the Lord's drummer. That is why Ghanaba, who died, called himself "Divine Drummer".

So, you can not be a good drummer when you hate people. You are not a drummer. When you steal things from people, you can not become a master drummer. When you hate people you are far from being a good drummer or a Master Drummer. A thief cannot be a good drummer. He can be a drummer, but not a good drummer.

A Master Drummer does not hate people. It has to come to you. You can't go to University to learn not to hate people. It doesn't work, because it's inside you. 

And the drummer has to be humble. Respect. Loving. You know. A Master Drummer, in Western terms you can say... No, I wouldn't say even a preacher or a pastor or a pope or something like that. Because you cannot compare popes with drummers. We are better than popes. I can tell you!

Then, as a drummer, how do you help people?

You have to help people in a lot of ways. People, when they come to you and they don't have money, and you have money, you give it to them. A drummer also has to learn a lot of herbs, you know. When somebody is sick, my father was curing sexual diseases, and a woman who wants to have a baby.

I can tell you that most of the people in the world are sick. Black, white, green, yellow, we are sick. Because of jealousy inside ourselves. Jealousy can give you cancer. Because it is bad vibes. Jealousy can kill you. You can build a fantastic, tall story-building, but jealousy can destroy it.

Another thing: To have power over people...

Somebody who is President. And he doesn't do things for the poor people. Does he have power? Somebody who is President, and he doesn't help nobody. He helps only his family. He takes money to Switzerland to keep in the bank. Do you think this is power? No, he has no power! He is the weakest man on earth! If money can run you down so low, that you don't care about your people you are not normal.

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Another thing: killing people. Hitler killed a lot of people. Napoleon killed some people. And Bush, recently.

The weakest man that I have seen recently is Bush. He's very weak. Weak, weak, weak, weak, weak. Below zero. Twenty-five below zero. Bush. He's that weak.

Let me tell you, what Master Drummer means. Master Drummer also means: NOT to kill is power. To kill is weakness. NOT to kill is the power!

So, Bush could never be a Master Drummer?

No!! Oh, never. How could he!

Not even if he learned how to play drum?

Oh no. He can play hundred years, he will never be a Master Drummer. No.

This is very interesting. In Europe or America we have a drummer, a doctor and a preacher. That's three separate professions. In Africa however, there's a connection between them.

Look at somebody like Michael Jackson. How many people went to his concert, and they are all healed! Do you think, sickness is only physical? I'm talking about mental sickness, emotional sickness. They went there and now they are OK mentally and spiritually. They are healed through the music.

And through his music, a Master Drummer can heal people?

Yes, yes, exactly. When you see somebody in Switzerland who is playing trumpet or saxophone very nicely. What do you feel?

I feel good.

Alright. Just like me. You see it now.

You said, you never intended to become a Master Drummer.

I didn't know the meaning before. One time, the lady who was a tutor at the University of Ghana, was having a birthday party. She invited me to come. When I drummed there, she said: "Mustapha, you are a Master Drummer!" From that day on everybody started to call me Master Drummer.

She knew it? She could see it?

She even wanted me to marry her daughter. She gave me the name Master Drummer.

But although you were already a Master Drummer, you continued your studies at the University.

The reason why I went to University in Legon was because I was interested in meeting other drummers. I learned a lot of things there for four years and I met all kinds of people. Drummers from Nigeria, from the North of Ghana, a lot.

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And you have traveled around Ghana yourself as well.

Oh, I know Ghana properly. I know it very well.

You have studied the music of all of it's tribes?

I wouldn't say all. But most of it. Because there so much to learn in Ghana here.

You are a Ga. When it comes to drumming, does it matter which tribe you belong to?

I don't know whether I'm a Ga or Ewe or Fanti or whatever. Maybe because I was born in Accra people call me a Ga. But when I see Ashanti people I don't feel like "oh, this is not me". When I see Fanti "no, this is not me". The reason why I love all tribes is because I'm connected to the drums. How can I play somebody's tribal music without loving him?

Through the drums, you are connected to all tribes of Ghana?

Yes. Even beyond Ghana. I have friends from Nigeria. Good drummers. I love them too.

You grew up with the music of the Ga. When you hear music of a different tribe, does it have the same meaning to you as it has to them? Do you understand their music as well as you understand your own?

In Greater Accra among the Ga people, the drumming they have is the most difficult in the whole of Ghana. They don't have a lot, but the few they have is very difficult. Most people don't want to learn it.

What makes Ga drumming different from other drumming?
This question could fill another book. The way the Ga people talk. They bring the talking into the drumming. When you listen to Twi (the language of the Ashanti tribe), the language is very easy compared to Ga. Even Fanti is sweet. And Ewe talking and drumming sounds all organized and easy to follow. While the Ga, their drumming is so difficult. I'm not talking about the Kpanlogo or Gome rhythms, I'm talking about the real traditional Ga drumming like Kpele. No European would like to sit down and learn Kpele.

Are you saying, that the drumming is connected to the people's language?

I suppose so, yes, precisely.

The more complicate the language, the more complicate the drumming?

Exactly. Yes (laughs) it's true!

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You taught many white people in Germany, Europe and America. But you don't teach them Ga drumming then?

I do sometimes. The easiest one is Kpanlogo. Even, I use sticks but they can not use the sticks very much. They refuse, because they want to use their hands. So I teach them simple Kpanlogo and other rhythms.

Why do you teach white people?

It's very simple. I got the idea to teach white people from the University. There, the "Institute of African Studies" had a child called "School of Music and Drumming". This is where I studied for four years. And people said: "Why always African Studies? Why not White Man Studies?" White people should come here and teach us their thing, and we will go there to teach them our thing. Like an exchange. I was thinking, white people gave us a lot. What are we going to give to them? For me, I teach them drumming.

Do you think white people can learn African drumming?

Yeah, for sure. When I went to Germany, I had a very difficult time looking for a place to teach. I went to different places and they would ask: "What do you want the house for?" And when I said to teach African drumming they'd say: "Nein, nein, nein!" Too much noise. Later, we found an empty house outside Düsseldorf near the train station and started everything there.

Some parents brought their stubborn boys to me to teach them how to drum. And they were very, very good. Bad boys, you know, from the street. Some of them now are making money with drumming. I taught many people for free. I just wanted them to come. You understand why.

One time I was in Bonn (Germany). There was a group of German people drumming kpanlogo and dancing. Beautiful German girls and boys! And some Ghanaians got annoyed and said: "Who teach them this! Mustapha?!" I said: "Yes! When I was drumming kpanlogo in Ghana, did you respect me? You thought it was stupid. So I come to Germany to teach the white people, and now you see how well they are drumming!"

The Ghanaians didn't like that you taught white people?

Some of them didn't like it.

Why not?

That's their problem.

Want to learn from Mustapha?

Since 1986, Mustapha teaches students from around the world at his Academy of African Music and Arts (AAMA), in a beautiful location near the ocean in Ghana.

Meet him there!

And then you started to bring white people to Ghana, to teach them here.

Yes. I brought a lot of people. It was a very nice time. Everybody would sleep on the floor, with their mosquito nets. There was no building yet. Only bush and snakes.

That was before you built the Academy of African Music and Arts (AAMA)?

Oh, long time.

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I am also going to teach my children. All my family, so that we keep the Ashanti drumming, Fanti drumming, Ewe drumming, all the drumming here. So that foreign students can come here and learn. Because Americans are going to teach Ghanaians in the future. When we are all dead. Because they are collecting the music. They are learning the drumming properly and the dancing. You wait and see.

That's bad!

It's not bad! What is bad about that? Our own boys here, their hiplife (modern version of Ghanaian highlife music), it's American style they do. So what's wrong about Americans learning our drumming? It's an exchange.

You don't mind that Ghanaians start to forget their own music?

Oh, what do I mind! Do you think I have the power to stop it? When I say "No, don't do hippie life, do Adowa, do Kete, Agbadza is better!", they will think Mustapha is crazy. You can't stop it.

Can you stop the Germans from coming here to learn African drumming? If you do that, you are making a mistake.

So, in the future, when you want to learn African drumming...

... you go to America! Or London.

Mustapha, thank you for your time!

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